Rory Archibald, business development manager for associations and sectors at VisitScotland Business Events, explores the contributions Scottish women have made to the world of science, and how business events can help encourage more women to go into STEM.
Today, 11 February, marks international Women and Girls in Science Day which celebrates women in the sector and their work, innovation and research.
To mark this day, we want to shine a light on the Scottish women who have made significant contributions to the science and engineering sectors.
A male dominated sector
While the number of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) roles have increased over recent years, the sector is still dominated by men.
In 2019, the Universities and College Admissions Service (UCAS) recorded 24,705 female graduates from core STEM subjects, a figure that accounts for only 26% of STEM graduates for the year.
To help support Scottish women in the industry, Equate Scotland, a national organisation that works towards gender equality throughout the STEM sectors, was established in 2006. Equate Scotland works with employers to create positive changes in their employment practices, behaviours and workplace cultures. It also works with women by delivering training and support at each stage of their career, has the UK’s only student network for female STEM students and the only UK wide women in STEM job advertising platform.
Equate Scotland’s vision is to have a progressive STEM labour market where women can contribute equally to advancements in science, engineering and technology and have fair access to the jobs of the future.
Scotland’s pioneering women
Scotland has a history of pioneering women. Here are two notable women of the many scientists Scotland has produced:
Maria Gordon, 1864 – 1939
Maria Gordon was born in Monymusk, Aberdeenshire in 1864 and was well known for her geological work. In 1893 Maria was the first woman to be awarded the Doctor of Science in Geology from the University of London and in 1900 she became the first woman ever to gain a PhD from the University of Munich.
Gordon carried out her research into the complex south Tyrol Dolomites, a mountain range in the northern Italian Alps. She published more than 30 original papers on the geology of this region, with many of her ideas contradicting the views of her peers.
Aside from her scientific research, Gordon was passionate about women’s rights and was an active campaigner. In 1919 Gordon moved to London and became active in civic affairs, she was made a justice of the peace and was the first woman to chair a London borough court.
In 1935, Gordon was made a Dame in recognition of her campaigning for the rights of women and children along with her involvement in women’s groups such as the International Council of Women, which is still active today.
Victoria Drummond, 1894 – 1978
Victoria Drummond was born in Megginch Castle, Perthshire in 1894 and was the first British woman to become a marine engineer and the first woman member of the Institute of Marine Engineers.
Drummond, who was named after her godmother Queen Victoria, showed an interest in mechanics from an early age. She was educated at home and surprised her family by wanting a career as a marine engineer.
As WWI began many job opportunities were opened up to women and in 1916, Drummond began her career as an apprentice in the Northern Garage in Perth. In 1918, she moved to the Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Company in Dundee where she worked for four years building naval and merchant ships.
In the 1920s Drummond served on ships visiting Australia, China, Africa and India however, when the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, she found it difficult to get work as there was little demand for marine engineers.
When WWII began Drummond was working as an air raid warden in London and set up a canteen in Lambeth North to provide food for families bombed out of their home. In 1940 Drummond was back to serving at sea and in August 1940 joined the SS Bonita, which was attacked by an enemy aircraft in the mid-Atlantic. She was commended for her bravery and actions and was awarded an MBE and the Lloyds war medal.
Women in Science Exhibition
Recognising the work of Scottish scientists is The Women in Science Exhibition, which launched in 2019 and celebrates women working in Scotland who are leaders and pioneers in their fields.
The exhibition, which was first hosted at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, showcases 26 women who are at the forefront of the global science sector, their ideas, knowledge and new use of resources and securing advances in healthcare.
Promoting Equality and Diversity in Science through Events
Scotland has an ambition for every child to realise their full potential, an ambition that aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goals of gender equality, quality education and reduced inequalities.
Business events can be drivers for these ambitions as well as social and economic transformation. The community in Scotland is well connected and rich in collaboration, with opportunities for events that specialise in a wide variety of fields to engage, educate and encourage young people from all walks of life to pursue a career in science.